Chinese Medicine: How to Eat Healthy in Autumn (Beyond Pumpkin Spice)
As days grow cooler and autumn touches earth, my heart embraces the shift. This season is my favourite. And the one I missed most while living in lands home to year-round summer.
My plunges in glacially cold Kootenay Lake and mountain streams continue. But this time of year, those dips make me seem slightly off kilter.
Many things are changing — including how I eat. Heavier, denser choices are replacing light, summery fare. Soups and roasted root veggies are back on the menu.
In Chinese Medicine, eating and living with the seasons is an important part of staying healthy.
For each season, Chinese classics offer sage guidance for what to cultivate in our lives…and what to put on our plates.
What’s this mean in autumn? Well, for starters, autumn’s all about gathering inward. These months move us from the maximum yang of mid-summer…through the transition of late summer…to the maximum yin of winter.
Fall is a time for pulling in scattered energy, focusing efforts, and tying up loose ends.
During autumn, the Chinese classics counsel us to go to bed early and rise with the sun. They also say it’s an excellent time of year for regular breathing exercises.
We’re extra-vulnerable to dryness this time of year — and sadness. Breathing helps on both counts. Emotionally, we should cultivate a calm, peaceful state.
Pulling back from the distraction and dispersion of summer, we prepare for an inward-focused, reflective winter.
What’s this have to do with food? A lot, actually. In Chinese Medicine, we don’t separate food and eating from the rest of life…or from wider patterns of living and being.
What’s on our plate in autumn is part of the bigger picture of seasonal attunement. This attunement — in all aspects — supports health and vitality throughout the year.
In autumn, as in every season, individual factors come into play too. In other words, eating seasonally is just one variable to consider when crafting your optimal diet. When I work with clients one-on-one, I take many variables, including personal goals, into account. That said…
Five sage guidelines for autumn go this way…
1. Autumn is a time to introduce heartier, denser food.
Excellent choices include roasted root veggies, stews, heavier meats and bone broth. For me, this means the slow-cooker comes out of storage and gets regular use.
Throw in some grass-fed beef or pasture-raised chicken, roughly chopped veggies, spices and water…and a pot of nourishing goodness awaits by morning.
2. Cook foods for longer duration at lower temperatures.
Longer cooking at lower temperatures makes foods more warming.
By warming, I’m not talking about whether foods are hot or cold to the touch. Rather, I mean their intrinsic thermal nature and influence on the body after eating. As the weather gets cooler, more warming foods are called for.
Autumn’s also a time to let go of raw foods and salads. In general, I recommend at least lightly steaming or sautéing the majority of your veggies. As the weather cools, roasting’s a great option too.
3. Incorporate yellow-orange veggies, tubers and gourds.
In Chinese Medicine, these are tonics for the digestive organs. They bolster them for the winter ahead (plus are in abundance this time of year).
Think pumpkin, winter squash, yams and carrots — especially slow-cooked, roasted or in soups.
4. Add a small amount of sour food, followed by bitter and salty.
Sour flavour’s contracting quality supports the gathering in of our resources, protecting them from the colder months. It also collects a scattered mind, helping concentrate our spirit and focus.
Bitter and salty move down and in, further preparing us for the sealing and storing of winter. With all these additions, a little goes a long way. Take care not to overdo.
5. Add moistening yet warming foods.
Autumn tends to be drying, so consider foods that moisten while also warming (or cook them with warming spices).
Good choices include spinach, apple and pear…warmed by cooking plus the addition of cinnamon, cardamom, cumin or ginger.
Making these changes this fall? Or have other seasonal tips? Please share in the comments!